Item Link: Access the Resource
Media Type: Article - Recent
Date of Publication: May 2012
Year of Publication: 2012
Author(s): William Rees
Industrialised world reductions in material throughput, energy use, and environmental degradation of over 90% will be required by 2040 to meet the needs of a growing world population fairly within the planet’s ecological means. Business Council for Sustainable Development1
It’s not as if we’re unaware of the problem. Symptoms were already so persistent two decades ago that a proclamation by many of the world’s top scientists warned that “a great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”2 This assertion was echoed a dozen years later by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s no less urgent warning that “human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”3
One might think that humanity’s best science would be enough to stimulate a decisive policy response, but the feeble effort so far has done little to stem the cumulative cascade of dismal data. No national government, no prominent international agency, no corporate leader anywhere has begun to advocate in public, let alone implement, the kind of evidence-based, visionary, morally coherent policy responses that are called forth by the best science available today.
In theory, Homo sapiens is uniquely equipped to confront this self-made crisis. Four critical intellectual and emotional qualities distinguish people from other advanced vertebrates. Humans have
- an unequaled capacity for evidence-based reasoning and logical analysis;
- the unique ability to engage in long-term forward planning;
- the capacity to exercise moral judgment; and
- an ability to feel compassion for other individuals and other species.
A necessary first step would be to acknowledge that globalization encourages the externalization of ecological and social costs (think climate change). Many goods and services are therefore underpriced in the marketplace and thus overconsumed. As any good economist will acknowledge, government intervention is legitimate and necessary to correct for gross market failure. Indeed, resistance to reform makes hypocrites of those who otherwise tout the virtues of market economies. Truly efficient markets require the internalization of heretofore hidden costs so that prices tell consumers the truth.
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